As I am coming to over half way through my PhD, I have been thinking a lot about what next, and trying to prepare for ‘the end’. A lot of people I know have finished PhDs with no paid position to go into, and I wanted to know a) if this was the norm and b) how much I should be saving up to tide me over until I find a job when I finish.
So a week or so I asked the good people of Science Twitter two questions:
- Did they have a gap between the end of their PhD funding and getting a post-doc or other job?
- If they had a gap, how long was it?
This resulted in a really constructive ongoing discussion, and a lot of good advice, which I thought it would be good to share.
The results of the not particularly scientific poll I ran on how long the average post-PhD income gap were, out of 57 respondents:
- 39% <1 month
- 14% 1-3 months
- 16% 3-6 months
- 31% 6 months
Good news: the most common answer was <1 month, bad news: it was nearly as common to have a gap of over 6 months. I’ll admit, this wasn’t as comforting as I had hoped, as I doubt I can save up enough money to live for 6 months with no pay (London rent)!
However, there were varied reasons why people took 6 months or more to find a job, including, but not limited to, having a baby, moving to live with spouses or partners, funding falling through at the last minute, looking for very specific job criteria (which will obviously take longer to find!) and, in a number of cases, through choice – ie they needed the break.
For those who had no break between their PhD funding and finding a paid position, I asked their advice, which I have condensed into 10 key points below:
- Save up while you do your PhD – gives you some leeway at the end.
- Look for jobs EARLY – In the UK this would be 1 year (for fellowships) to 6 months before you finish, in the US some suggested up to 2 years before the end of your funding.
- Email people you would like to work with in advance, they may have funding or be keen to apply for funding together.
- Networking Networking Networking. Most people found postdocs with people they had come across during their PhD. Make sure you take those speakers out to the pub in the evenings.
- Keep publishing – throughout your PhD and during any gap you may have. Also, if you take a non-academic job you will need to keep publishing if you want to go back into academia. Pre-print papers, so even if you don’t have publications out just yet people can access them and see what you have done.
- Be active on social media – a fair few people found post-docs and jobs through Twitter. If you are active on social media people will know your name and face.
- Think about writing grants with your supervisor/ lab – this is a really common way people find post-docs. However there is also a risk of not having a back-up if this falls through.
- ‘Just get on with it‘ – you know how long you have for your PhD so try and get it done early if you can (obviously this is not feasible for everyone!) – it only needs to be good enough to pass a viva and that way you have more time to publish and apply for jobs.
- Teach (especially stats!) – a few people got teaching positions or even post-docs off the back of teaching experience from their PhD.
- Keep an open mind – there are loads of jobs out there and even those that may not seem relevant can give you really useful skills for future positions. Even within post-docs, be flexible about what you will be researching. Being flexible is key to keeping that gap short – sometimes you need to take what you can get to pay your rent and work the rest out later.
People also highlighted, however, how tough it is to juggle finishing up your PhD with a job – especially when that job is in the field with no electricity! So there are certainly pros and cons to have a gap between finishing your PhD and finding a job.